Boca Raton St. Andrew’s and Miami Belen Jesuit have a history of exciting matchups in the boys’ state championship water polo tournament.
Friday’s state semifinal between the two schools added to that history.
Pablo Kurzan’s goal with 31 seconds remaining lifted defending-champion Belen Jesuit back to the state championship, as the Wolverines held on to defeat St. Andrew’s 8-7.
“These are the two best teams in Florida, today, in this moment,” Belen Jesuit coach Jimmy Aguilera said after the game Friday.
Belen Jesuit and St. Andrew’s faced off twice in the regular season, with the Wolverines winning each game 9-7.
Friday’s game went back-and-forth for three quarters, and after the Wolverines took a 7-5 lead with 4:19 to play on Nicolas Tamborrel’s third goal of the game, St. Andrew’s rallied.
Goals by senior Tristan O’Connell and freshman William Oliver tied it for St. Andrew’s with 49 seconds to play, setting the stage for Kurzan’s heroics.
“I had the ball and I could have let it go for a penalty,” Kurzan said. “I knew I just had to try a little bit more and get the goal in.”
Belen Jesuit earned a title-game rematch with St. Thomas Aquinas after defeating the Raiders in last year’s championship.
St. Thomas Aquinas defeated Winter Park 8-3 to advance to the title game. Parker Strickman and James Burnette scored four goals each for the Raiders, and Ryan Gustafson tallied scored all three Wildcat goals.
Raiders coach Michael Goldenberg kept his team locked in during a lengthy rain delay.
“I kept talking to them about what they’re going to do,” Goldenberg said. “They did exactly what they needed to do … enough to win.”
In the quarterfinals, Ricardo Martinez and Carlos Samaniego each tallied four goals as St. Andrew’s defeated Lake Nona 14-4, and Nicolas Tamborrel scored five goals and Adrian Hernandez contributed a hat trick in Belen Jesuit’s 13-2 win over Miami Mourning.
St. Thomas Aquinas won its quarterfinal against Fort Lauderdale 17-4. Parker Strickman and Robert Schulte each scored four goals for the Raiders.
The Raiders advanced to face Winter Park in the quarterfinals after the Wildcats edged Seminole 12-10. Ryan Gustafson led Winter Park with four goals, and Peter Chutoransky scored the go-ahead goal with just over two minutes to play.
On the girls’ side, Orlando Olympia defeated South Broward 8-4 to advance to the state final.
Olympia will face host Ransom Everglades in Saturday’s final, as the Raiders defeated Lake Nona 8-3 in the second semifinal to continue their pursuit of a third consecutive state championship.
Ransom Everglades coach Eric Lefebvre said his message to his team was simple.
“Be really happy that you did a great job,” Lefebvre said, before reminding his team, “You didn’t win state.”
South Broward’s historic run through the girls’ state tournament ended in the semifinals. Before this year, the Bulldogs had never advanced past the state tournament’s first round.
“I’m proud of my girls,” South Broward coach Chris Bloese said after the game. “I don’t think they were ready for that physical of a game.”
“We are the complete and total underdog,” Olympia coach Stephanie Johnson Possell said of her team’s mind-set heading into Saturday’s final. “We’ve got nothing to lose.”
Grace Whidden, who scored four goals in the Titans’ semifinal victory, had five goals in Olympia’s 7-4 quarterfinal win over Lake Brantley.
South Broward got seven goals from freshman Emma Leto in its 16-6 quarterfinal victory over Fort Lauderdale.
Ransom Everglades defeated Lake Nona in last year’s championship game, and both the Raiders and the Lions played well in quarterfinal victories earlier Friday.
Amy Branch scored seven goals to lead Lake Nona past St. Andrew’s 18-6, and Ransom Everglades got six goals from Sofia Carrera-Justiz in a 14-4 win over MAST.